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Irish keep grand slam dreams alive

IRELAND survived a late scare to beat England 14-13 at Croke Park on Saturday and keep alive its chances of a Six Nations grand slam.

Ireland was leading 14-6 with two minutes left when Delon Armitage touched down for the visitors. The conversion left England within a single score and throwing the ball about with uncharacteristic confidence following the restart, but time ran out when wing Mark Cueto spilled the ball in a tackle.

The result leaves Ireland alone at the top of the Six Nations standings with a maximum six points from three matches. The Irish are the only team still able to complete a grand slam of wins. Trips to Scotland and defending champion Wales, which lost 16-21 to France on Friday, stand between Ireland and a first grand slam since 1948.

Ireland has not managed to win the title since 1985, famously losing it in 2007 when favored as France scored an injury-time try against Scotland in its final match.

England improved vastly on the performance that resulted in a 43-13 mauling on its last visit to Dublin two years ago, but paid for indiscipline yet again as two yellow cards meant it played 20 minutes with 14 men.

"It makes life a lot easier when you're playing against 14 men," Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said.

Scotland could still finish above England in the championship after beating visiting Italy 26-6 in what was billed as the game to decide which of the pair would finish last. Scotland is tied with England on two points and visits its oldest rival in the final round on March 21.

O'Driscoll played the whole match despite appearing to be slightly below his best because of an injury and scored eight of his team's points, although his try and drop goal both came after a first half that surprisingly left the teams tied at 3-3.

Flyhalf Ronan O'Gara put Ireland ahead in the 29th with a penalty awarded for offside.

England, though, leveled with a kick of its own when Toby Flood, who was the only change to the team that lost 15-23 at Wales two weeks ago, kicked from in front of the posts.

O'Driscoll restored his team's three-point advantage with a snap drop goal he got away despite a heavy challenge from center Riki Flutey and England prop Phil Vickery was a short time later sent to the sin bin for going in at a ruck with his feet off the ground.

A minute later, O'Driscoll dived under two forwards for his try and, although Armitage cut Ireland's lead to 11-6, O'Gara added another three points with 11 minutes to go.

That seemed like the end of the scoring, particularly with replacement scrumhalf Danny Care off the field for a late tackle with the shoulder that infuriated manager Martin Johnson, watching in the stands. But Goode chipped through for Armitage to touch down, leaving Ireland to face a nervous last minute.


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